Saturday, 21 April 2007

Seeds and Drought

The last of my rain water is in sight, and there are mutterings in Government circles about moving Adelaide to Level 5 water restrictions, where we will only be allowed to use water from a bucket or a watering can for three hours per week. At that point, we will start to lose established fruit trees that we backyard gardeners have had for years, and it will be decades, not months, before we can recover through replanting.
In the Murray-Darling Catchment, where 40% of Australia's food crops are grown, this same situation has a high chance of coming to pass anyway, just on a far grander scale, and within the coming year. It will mean hardship for many, and fresh food prices in the city going through the roof.
If that happens, we should expect a surge of interest in backyard gardening, even in quite small plots. So folk who are gardening now will be called upon to train countless others in 'how to' fruit and vegetable growing that we've all learnt by experience during the good times.
Even if heavy winter rains save us from a disastrous situation this time around, we should all be doing things now that will help us survive if hard times come back in earnest. One of the hidden sources of demand in a prolonged drought will be upon our seed stocks, which may not be so readily available, or where demand may exceed supply. As Peter Bennett was fond of saying "There’s nothing so sad as ‘too late!""
I’ve written before about my efforts to capture this coming winter’s rainfall to make it available for next summer’s vegetable patch (see "All tanked up and waiting for rain" on this Blog site). But there are other things that I am now thinking about doing with a greater sense of urgency than a few months ago.
If water is short, then efficient irrigation will be the key to bringing the same crop to the table on reduced amounts of water. So I’m going to change next year’s garden to sub-surface drip, which minimises evaporation, but does restrict plants and other soil organisms to a narrow wetted section of soil, requiring more geometrical plantings.
Then I’m going to have to mulch more heavily, at a time when pea straw and wheaten hay will be expensive and in short supply if winter rains do not bring on supplies next Spring. So I’m thinking to grow more ‘green manure’ crops over winter, if I get the rain, then mow them down in September to provide mulch and nutrients ‘in place’.
One of the best ways to store water is in the soil itself. As the water-holding abilities of the soil depend on the amount of organic matter present, I will be boosting my compost inputs to the garden over winter. This is the best time to buy in such organic compost (as I do by the truckload), because one can have Mother Nature ‘wet down’ and ‘season’ this compost before it is needed in Spring. Just lay it on the surface, to a depth of at least 100 mm, and let the earthworms come and get it for redistribution through the soil profile.
Compost itself can act as an excellent mulch, keeping the soil below cool and moist despite harsh sunshine up above. So compost laid on paths and between working crops is a good way to provide extra habitat for soil organisms like earthworms.
Compost will become scarcer in a drought, because considerable amounts of water are used in its production from Adelaide’s green waste. Some suggested suppliers are Jeffries Compost, SA Composters and Peats Soils. The Adelaide City Council also sells compost from their depot beside the River Torrens near the archery fields.
Finally, I am going to stock up on seeds this year, just so that we as a group have them to hand for distribution to the public, and to diversify their supply in hard times. It should be cheaper for us to, buying direct from the manufacturer. I can start a web-based spreadsheet on this Blog site so that we can all shop at our own ‘seed collective’.
As a Seed Saver, I have my own stocks and my own favourites. But I’d like to hold this pool of commercial seed for days like the Open Garden Day at Fern Avenue Community Gardens, where we should – ethically - have a good stock of ‘starter seeds’ to get others interested in backyard growing, and by extension, seed saving.
Is this hard? No – it’s fun! Back when I was with the Soil Association of South Australia, I was the sales officer, and I used to love the buying and selling of seeds, herbs, books and plants to the general public. There’s no better way to convert some one to basic food self-sufficiency than over a packet of seeds. The photo shows Claudia behind the counter in the Herb section of the SASA stall at the Go Organic Market in September 2005.
Anyone for seeds? I’m your man!

1 comment:

Kate said...

Andrew, we think so much alike or maybe its that we think, at all ! We have $100 or more in our kitty. Let's use some/all of it to get started on some 'seeds-for-a-rainy-day', so to speak.
I can tell you what I have found out about drippers etc if you like.